A battered but undefeated Alliance
A war they cannot win by force
A plan to turn the tide of history!
For two years, the Castle Federation and the Alliance of Free Stars have stood against Marshal James Walkingstick of the Terran Commonwealth and his mission of conquest. Battles have been won and lost, worlds have died, and soldiers like Admiral Kyle Roberts have been forged on the anvil of war.
But the Alliance cannot win. The Commonwealth has more worlds, more ships, more soldiers. They claim their victory is inevitable. That history is on their side.
Refusing to accept the Commonwealth’s future, the Alliance embarks on a do-or-die mission to end the war in one strike. If Kyle Roberts’s plan works, the Commonwealth will break.
But if it fails the Alliance will be broken.
06:00 August 1, 2737 Earth Standard Meridian Date/Time
“Alert, alert, all hands to battle stations, all hands to battle stations. System Command has identified multiple Alcubierre emergences.
“All hands to battle stations!”
Vice Commodore Russell Rokos spared approximately three-quarters of a second to look despairingly at the freshly warmed-up homemade scone sitting on his desk, a gift from his currently almost fifty-light-years-away wife.
Getting homemade baked treats to one of Castle Federation’s carriers deployed on the front took a minor miracle and a lot of determination, but his wife had somehow made it happen. Being a senior police officer on the capital planet probably helped, but it wasn’t easy.
So, of course, the Terran Commonwealth would choose this particular moment to attack, forcing him to waste a full quarter of her gift.
The broad-shouldered starfighter officer, however, was a professional and ran through that entire thought process in moments. Then he tore a chunk of the scone off and stuffed it in his mouth as he rose and began to run toward Normandy’s flight deck.
The one hundred and ninety-two starfighters aboard were his responsibility now. The almost six hundred crew who flew those ships were far more important than his ruined snack.
As he ran, he linked his neural implant up to the carrier’s main tactical feed, downloading the update that Midori System command was feeding the ships of Task Force Midori.
He swallowed his piece of scone in horror.
Midori had been the scene of no less than four battles so far in the seesawing war between the Castle Federation and her allies and the Terran Commonwealth. Most of those battles had been relatively even, with attempts by the Terran commander, Marshal James Calvin Walkingstick, to force the Alliance to defend the refueling infrastructure in Midori and allow him to destroy ships.
Ships the Commonwealth could replace far more easily than the Alliance could. Over twenty Alcubierre-drive starships, an entire star system’s GDP’s worth of warships, had died defending this system, a slow grind that weakened the Alliance more than Walkingstick’s fleet.
This was not that kind of attack.
“CAG,” the mental voice of Captain Karl Herrera cut into Russell’s thoughts. “Are you ready to launch?”
“Twenty seconds from flight deck,” he responded crisply. “Two squadrons of Alpha Flight Group are already out as the CSP; two more are in the tubes with crews aboard.
“None of the bombers are up and everything is going to take at least three minutes to man,” he reeled off. “Standard launch cycle; we’ll be live and in space in five minutes, no more.”
“Even the bombers?” Herrera asked.
One of Russell’s four forty-eight-ship wings had been swapped from starfighters to bombers barely two months before. The Vulture-type ships and their new torpedoes were a boost to his fighter group’s capability, but few of his compatriots trusted them yet.
“Even the bombers,” Russell confirmed. “We’ll be ready.”
He felt Herrera shake his head over the mental channel.
“It won’t be enough,” the Captain told him, the channel through their neural implants utterly secure and with no chance of eavesdroppers. “I can fight this battle in my head. I just don’t see a way out.”
Russell said nothing.
Task Force Midori had eight ships from three of the Alliance’s major powers, a force that made the “Task Force” designation a severe underestimation.
The Terran fleet was being led by eight battleships—and another ten carriers and cruisers came behind them.
Midori was doomed.
They had time. Not a lot of it, but time. The massive Terran fleet was only accelerating in from the outer system at two hundred gravities, which gave the Alliance fleet several hours to put together their response.
Like the rest of the starfighter CAGs, Russell’s place in that conversation was aboard his starfighter. The speed and power of the neural implants all of the Alliance military personnel were equipped with meant that he might as well have been in a room with the starship Captains and flag officers, though.
“They brought their A game,” Vice Admiral the Elector Parth Rothenberg noted to his subordinates. The dark-skinned man was an Elector of the Coraline Imperium, part of their pseudo-military aristocracy, and the man in command of Task Force Midori.
“All eight battleships are Saint-class,” he continued. “That’s more Saints than we thought Walkingstick had left after his losses—it’s easily half of the Commonwealth’s surviving strength of the class until their next wave of new construction finishes.
“The rest is no better. Four Hercules-class battlecruisers of the same vintage, four Volcano-class carriers and two Lexingtons.”
Everything except the Lexingtons were relatively new units, built in the last ten years and easily the equal of a Victory-class carrier like Normandy.
“We’re out-numbered two to one. The cubage disadvantage is about as severe: we have Summerlands and Genghis Khan, but most of our ships are smaller.”
The two ships he had named were the heavyweights of the Task Force, modern, top-of-the-line Castle Federation warships bigger than anything the Commonwealth had yet built. Alongside Normandy, the Federation had sent three ships to Midori.
Not to be outdone, the Coraline Imperium had also sent three: one modern carrier, Righteous Fire, and two Rameses-class battlecruisers.
A single modern battlecruiser from the Star Kingdom of Phoenix and a Renaissance Trade Factor–built carrier belonging to the Midori Self-Defense Force made up the rest of Rothenberg’s fleet.
“They haven’t summoned us to surrender. They know we won’t,” Rothenberg concluded dryly. “We have no choice but to assume they have bombers as well, so our Vultures won’t be a surprise.”
“What about the fixed defenses?” Colonel Jenaveve LaCroix, the CAG aboard the Phoenix warship Dauntless, asked. “The MSDF has another thousand fighters to back up our strength.”
“And I intend to use them,” Rothenberg replied, his virtual avatar glancing at the still-silent form of Admiral Paris Kennedy, the woman in charge of the MSDF. This was her system, after all, even if Rothenberg commanded the Alliance Task Force. “But they aren’t enough to turn the tide against eight battleships.”
Kennedy finally stirred.
“No, they’re not,” she concluded. “Admiral, do you honestly expect to be able to save Midori?”
The mental conference was silent for several long seconds.
“No.” The words were tombstones. “But I see no other option but to take a leaf from the Fox’s book—a head-on assault with everything we have. Target the battleships; the Commonwealth commander is almost certainly aboard one of them.”
Russell kept his laugh out of the channel. The Stellar Fox, his old Captain, had once taken a single carrier against a Commonwealth battle group. Of course, he’d emerged from FTL inside the battle group’s formation, accidentally rammed a battleship, and lost his carrier in the end…but he’d won.
“But regardless of whether the Terran admiral dies in your strike, they will complete their mission plan,” Kennedy said softly. “This Task Force will be destroyed. Midori will fall.”
No one had the courage to confirm what she’d said.
“That’s what I thought,” she continued. “Ladies, gentlemen, officers. Under Section Seven of the Alliance Treaty of Mutual Defense, I am assuming command of all forces in this system.”
As the ranking officer of the local government, she had that authority, though the Midorians had generally been willing to let Alliance officers lead the defense.
“I have only one order,” Kennedy continued into the silence. “You will withdraw. Midori’s Hope will withdraw with you; I will have the President transferred aboard immediately.”
Kennedy herself was aboard a station in orbit. For some reason, Russell didn’t expect her to be leaving aboard the carrier she was sending away.
“Ma’am, I served with the Fox,” he found himself objecting. “We all know what he said when he went to Tranquility in a shattered carrier: there may yet come a day when the Federation must break its word to its allies from necessity. Today is not that day!”
The woman who spoke for Midori chuckled sadly and shook her head.
“No, it is not,” she agreed. “I am ordering you to withdraw, Vice Commodore Rokos. We cannot win this battle—and your warships will better serve my world defeating the Commonwealth tomorrow than dying pointlessly today!”
There was a long silence. It probably wasn’t more than ten seconds, but given the speed a neural implant conference usually moved at, it may as well have lasted an hour.
Then Admiral Rothenberg bowed his aristocratic head in agreement.
“You have that authority,” he told her. “We will acquiesce.” He smiled grimly. “I will not, however, withdraw from this system without bleeding the Commonwealth first. Request permission to launch a long-range bomber strike?
“We won’t need the MSDF fighters for that,” he continued. “Between my Righteous Fire and the Federation carriers, we have three wings of Vultures. One hundred and thirty-six bombers.”
Kennedy nodded once.
“I will have no vain hopes launched on our account,” she told the assembled officers. “No grand sacrifices. Bleed the Terrans, yes. But not yourselves. I insist.”
“This will be our first major battle where both sides have bombers,” Commodore Viktors Ozolinsh, the senior Federation CAG, noted. “They’ll know what our attack pattern means if we keep the range open.”
“Let them,” Rothenberg said grimly. “They’ll send their fighters out to intercept and we’ll lose people—but less than if we go head-on and throw the entire fighter strike into the teeth of their formation.
“One million kilometers, CAGs,” he ordered. “You won’t be in range of your starfighter missiles, so use them to defend the bombers.
“And let me be clear,” Rothenberg concluded. “Any pilot who closes within a million kilometers of the Terrans and isn’t blown to pieces by them will be busted back to ground crew. Am I clear?”
“Yes, sir,” Russell chorused with the rest of the pilots. Orders like that were why, if Rothenberg had given the command, every starfighter in his command would have gone straight down the Commonwealth fleet’s throat.
“We will deploy our starfighters as well,” Kennedy informed them. “They will close for a standard strike before rendezvousing with your fleet.”
“We will take as many of them with us as we can fit aboard,” the Imperial Admiral promised.
Russell shivered. The Midori Self-Defense Force flew an upgraded version of the Federation’s last-generation Cobra starfighter. The Alliance ships could easily take on the three thousand or so crew aboard those ships, but stacking another thousand starfighters on their decks would be hell.
Unfortunately…if the MSDF starfighters pressed a close attack on the Commonwealth formation, there wouldn’t be very many of them left to cram aboard the Alliance ships.
Russell blinked his attention away from the meeting to the immediate task. A Victory-class carrier carried four fighter wings of six squadrons apiece, a total of one hundred and ninety-two starfighters and five hundred and seventy-five other lives dependent on him.
“All right, people,” he snapped over the fighter group channel. “Orders from on high. Starships are going to make a run for it, we’ve got the geometry and the Terrans can’t catch them.”
“We’re just leaving?”
“We are leaving,” Russell confirmed. “Orders from the Midorians themselves. We can’t hold and the locals have forbidden us to be stupid.
“That said, we’re not going to let the Terrans just waltz in and take over,” he told his people. “Form up on the Vultures; we’re making a one mega-klick pass and dumping every torpedo this Task Force has down their throat.”
“Wing Commander Reyes, are your people ready to serve me some fried battleship?”
“Hell yes, Vice Commodore!” his bomber commander replied instantly. “Would you like them over easy?”
“I’ll settle for ‘in pieces’, Wing Com,” he told her. “Coordinate with the other bomber wings. We’re going to get one shot at medium range and then we are going to run like scared rabbits who saw the hound; you get me?”
“I get you, sir.”
“And the rest of you.” Russell turned his digital attention to his other three Wing Commanders, eighteen Flight Commanders, and five hundred starfighter pilots, gunners and engineers.
“The Terrans aren’t stupid,” he reminded them, “and they have bombers of their own.”
In fact, they’d had them first, but the Alliance had stolen the plans. They’d done a better job of rolling them out than the Terrans had, too, completely destroying any advantage the Commonwealth would have received from the deadly little ships.
“We don’t know who’s in charge over there, but Walkingstick isn’t going to roll out sixteen of his most modern toys under command of an idiot!
“They’re going to realize what we’re doing as soon as they run our vectors, which means we are going to have every starfighter an entire fleet carries coming our way. We’re not closing to our range of the enemy capital ships, which means our job is to cover the bombers.
“With the MSDF along for the ride, we have more fighters than they do. Let’s demonstrate why that was a bad plan on their part, shall we?”